Just over a year ago, my father, who is a pilot, told me that he would be joining a group of his ex-military friends to fly some WWI biplanes over Vimy, France, during the 100th anniversary of the battle. I didn’t know much about Vimy, but I wanted to know more, so my father told me the story.
World War 1 involved 33 countries, and 60 million soldiers. Of those 60 million men, 10 million died, and 20 million more soldiers and civilians were wounded.
When WWI broke out, the Germans took control of a position called Vimy Ridge, which was a huge hill overlooking a lot of land. This position gave the Germans an advantage: they could easily see any incoming Allied troops. In 1915, the French tried for a year to take the ridge, but they failed and gave the challenge of taking the ridge to the British, who tried and failed in 1916. The Canadians, who were at the time fighting as part of the British, asked if they could fight as their own army. The British agreed, and gave the Canadians the tack of taking Vimy Ridge. The French and British thought that the Canadians would fail as well. They didn’t. On April 9, 1917, the Canadians attacked Vimy Ridge, and took the majority of the ridge in 24 hours. What the French and British couldn’t do in two years took the Canadians three days. The victorious Canadians shocked their allies, and this battle is considered the birth of our nation. From that point onwards, the Canadians continued to fight as their own army.
On April 6, 2017, I flew to France with my mother. My father was already there, flying the biplanes. When we arrived at the airfield that they were flying out of at Lens, France, I was shocked to see that it was just a huge field of grass. I helped strap the pilots into the planes, and move the planes around. On April 8, my father flew over Hill 70 in a memorial. Hill 70 was another major Canadian battle that took place after Vimy. I got to sit in the cockpit of the plane, and this was also very cool. On April 9, the 100th anniversary of Vimy took place.
When I went to the memorial, I wore my Air Cadets uniform as so to represent 778 Banshee Squadron of Richmond Hill. I went to the memorial with my parents, and it was breathtaking. The names of 11,000 Canadian soldiers who died in France with no known grave are carved on the sides of the memorial. The royal family, as well as Prime Minister Trudeau and the President of France were there. Afterwards, I was able to meet the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lieutenant General Mike Hood. It was truly an amazing experience.